Briefing for the beach: Department for Exiting the EU

So, let’s get on with this then shall we?

Well, one of the first of many challenges for this department must be figuring out the order in which things need to happen? There are, for example, six (sets of) negotiations for the UK to conclude in order to successfully exit the EU and obtain new trading and security arrangements for the future. So presumably the department will provide its own views on when and how these will begin?

Well . . . Brexit means Brexit.

Concluding all these negotiations at the same time is in any case impractical. It may be that the UK can agree as a priority some form of interim deal with the EU while a longer term agreement is worked out to a different timetable. That must be on the agenda, right?

Plainly . . . Brexit means Brexit.

Before the pre-referendum negotiation with the EU, the Government carried out a ‘balance of competencies review’. Over two years it studied – and took representations on – all the various aspects of the UK’s relationship with the EU. Back then the Government’s policy was to remain in a reformed EU. Now that the policy has changed it may be time for a further review as a first step to formulating a negotiating position?

Let’s be clear . . . Brexit means Brexit.

In the meantime, outside Government, negotiating points are being written up. The British Bankers’ Association has prepared a lobbying document, which has been reported on, though not yet published. As well as covering the priority issue of trading arrangements for banks working across the EU, the document also talks about the challenge on ensuring payment services, including credit cards, continue to work efficiently across the EU; and other regulatory issues like whether UK rules on money laundering will have to change.

That’s just a taste. Every sector in the economy, and every major firm, will be working on a similar list of issues. Every Government Department will be doing the same. To give a sense of the scale of incoming traffic facing the Department, there were 2300 pieces of written evidence submitted to the balance of competencies review; and the Government’s concluding report spanned 32 volumes. If anything, the consultation process and the conclusions that have to be drawn from it will be larger in scale this time?

I don’t think you’re getting the point . . . Brexit means Brexit.

To be fair, Ministers in the Department may be more focused at the moment on working in private to identify the options available to them, both on substance and process. There is an all-star team of senior civil servants in place to support them. But the challenge is the usual one faced by policymakers, amplified in this case, which is that so much of the expertise on the relevant issues is outside Government in private firms, or indeed in other Government departments. Getting hold of that expertise isn’t easy. Typically firms and departments will want to retain their EU specialists during this period. Equally they will be lobbying to get the best outcome for themselves. That might mean working hand-in-hand with the Department. Or it might mean giving them a hard time in the press or Parliament.

The rotters. Whatever happened to Brexit means Brexit?

Joking aside, perhaps that message is getting through. The lobby to relive the referendum vote seems to be shrinking. Even Owen Smith, the Labour leadership contender who initially was dead set on a commitment to a second referendum, now seems to have softened his line, suggesting that a deal to leave the EU should be subject to either a second referendum or a general election. In practice it will certainly be a major issue at the next general election, whenever that takes place.

The lobbying from the financial sector is very hard-headed too. There’s no evidence of wish fulfilment that perhaps Brexit won’t happen after all.

Even some members of the science community, overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU, have drawn back from the more catastrophist predictions about the effect of leaving the EU on the UK research base. That shift in attitude has no doubt been helped in part by the Government’s commitment to underwrite the payment of awards from EU research funds beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.

Similar reassurances – running through to 2020 – have been given to UK recipients of money from the Common Agricultural Policy and other EU funds.

See, the Treasury gets it. Brexit means Brexit.

This may be part of a pattern. Many of the big issues will remain with individual Departments, including the Treasury, rather than the Department for Exiting the European Union. While many have assumed that Theresa May has put Brexiteers in charge of delivering Brexit, it is Remainers who hold the keys to the Treasury, Business Department and Home Office. When it comes to money, the regulation facing business and immigration, the decisions will be made by hard-headed Remainers. If they move slowly and cautiously, which they are likely to do, then there is conflict ahead, within the Government as well as in Parliament. The holding line of Brexit means Brexit has a lot of work left to do.

Across the summer the Social Market Foundation has published policy briefings from our Director, Emran Mian. We welcome feedback, so if you’d like to get in touch about anything discussed in the briefing, or to work with us, please contact


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